The most profitable plants in your vegetable garden

Most expensive vegetables in your garden

Many vegetables can be expensive to purchase by growing the most expensive vegetables in your garden and buying the least inexpensive vegetables at your grocery store you can easily help drop your food budget.  This especially important for people like me with very limited space to grow everything that I consume.

It may be impossible to put a price on the satisfaction of bringing in a basket of produce fresh from your garden.  As well as the enhanced flavors from having truly fresh produce from your garden compared to that of your local supermarket.  Though when I was harvesting my potatoes this summer with my daughter I did have the thought, Would it have been smarter for me to grow something else in this space?  I estimate out of the 4-5 square feet I used for these plants I probably got about $4-5 worth of potatoes.

I did a little research first to determine yields of various plants per square foot and secondly what the value (organic supermarket prices USD) of the yielded produce at harvest.  Given I am a city dweller with a fairly small footprint for my vegetable garden (about 30-35 square feet) making decisions on what to buy at the supermarket and what to grow in the garden may be a huge money saver with just a few dollars invested in some seeds for your vegetable garden

Now from the results below you can see the winners for the most produce value per square foot are many of the leafy green vegetables/herbs (cilantro, lettuce, chives, dill, Swiss chard) next comes many of the larger vine plants (tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, peas) with many of the root plants taking up the rear.  Now much of this makes sense where many of the vine plants grow on trellises and are allowed to spread, which I guess is sort of cheating the square foot rule but I will let it slide.  Compared to the root plants whose production is entirely dependent on the space allowed in square footage they have to grow as well as these are normally inexpensive produce items to begin with.

Vegetable USD Value/SF
Cilantro $ 21.20
Arugula-Roquette $ 20.92
Green Salad Mix $ 17.55
Chives $ 16.40
Dill $ 16.40
Lettuce $ 16.20
Tomato, Cherry, small & medium $ 15.57
Turnip $ 9.90
Tomato, large $ 9.50
Squash, Winter $ 8.40
Tomatillo $ 8.00
Cucumber $ 7.74
Basil $ 6.63
Radish, Red $ 6.22
Pumpkin $ 6.20
Chard, Swiss $ 6.14
Celery $ 6.00
Squash, Summer $ 5.96
Choi $ 5.70
Peas, Snow $ 4.50
Pepper, Jalapeno $ 4.50
Squash, Summer, Zucchini $ 4.17
Onion, Bunching $ 4.14
Pepper, Bell $ 3.60
Brussels Sprouts $ 3.59
Carrots $ 3.56
Rhubarb $ 3.25
Squash, Winter, Butternut $ 3.20
Kale $ 3.07
Grass, Lemon $ 3.00
Peas, English $ 3.00
Onion, Bulb $ 2.63
Radish, White $ 2.60
Bean, Bush $ 2.51
Peas, Edible Pod $ 2.50
Artichoke, Globe $ 2.40
Cabbage, Chinese Napa $ 2.24
Squash, Winter, Delicata $ 2.10
Spinach, Spring/Fall $ 1.80
Leeks $ 1.75
Potatoes $ 1.50
Parsnips $ 1.50
Garlic $ 1.37
Squash, Summer, Yellow $ 1.34
Parsley $ 1.31
Corn $ 1.25
Squash, Winter, Acorn $ 1.20
Squash, Winter, Hubbard $ 1.20
Eggplant $ 1.10
Greens, Mustard $ 1.10
Rutabaga $ 1.00
Beet $ 0.89
Cabbage, Savoy $ 0.80
Broccoli $ 0.80
Kohlrabi $ 0.75
Cauliflower $ 0.60
Broccoli, Chinese $ 0.60
Cabbage $ 0.50

Sources: http://www.mcgoodwin.net/pages/ppatch.html for plant yield information, http://shop.safeway.com for current produce prices

Now even with this information I will still plan on growing some onions and garlic since I more than likely would be forced to use dehydrated alternatives due to being too lazy to drive to the supermarket to buy fresh varieties.  Though I may be adding some more herbs/greens to my garden this year.

One important thing to remember is you still have to eat the vegetables, throwing $20 worth or arugula or cilantro into the compost bin is not exactly a sound investment.  You can also get higher yields by growing vertically, but don’t forget those tall plants produce a larger shadow so you may still need some extra ground space to support these alternate growing methods.

So go out and get some cheap vegetable seeds (or in many cases free) and plant some profitable vegetables in your backyard/patio garden this spring.

     

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  1. Great information! This will help me in the next few week while I’m deciding what seeds to order for the coming seasons. It will also help me explain to others why I grow so much of this or that. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for posting this and the references to pricing. We grow two artichoke plants and have gotten at least $50 in one season from one $8 plant. After fertilizing and other costs of care, we’ll probably get a tenfold return on this little investment!

  3. Huh, wonder why so much for chard and so little for kale? Aren’t they both healthy/trendy at the moment? They take up the same space in my garden, or chard slightly more. Hm. Hey, was thinking of a Seattle garden bloggers meet-up some time here in the near future? Are you interested? If so, please stop by my blog and leave a comment about your availability. Happy New Year! – Karenhttp://greenwalks.wordpress.com/2009/01/02/seattle-area-garden-bloggers-meet-up/

  4. I took a look at the numbers and Swiss Chard was $0.70 more per pound and supposedly should yeild an extra 0.8 lb per square foot. I want to do the numbers again with farmer market prices since the seasonal ones can vary.

  5. Ole Timey gardener here, I feed me and the wife for the bigger part from the garden. We dry a lot of the garden, and pressure can the rest for the long Canadian winters! We also recommend brewing beer and sauerkrauting cabbage.

  6. Cool cost analysis. You kind of have to figure in the cost of labor for planting, maintaining, harvesting, and preparing, which makes garlic a much better deal than, say, shelling peas.

  7. Thanks for all the work! My only question is whether you checked organic or conventional prices on the Safeway website.

  8. For those like me who are not from the USA/Canada and who had never seen the word “Cilantro” before, it’s what the rest of the world calls Coriander.

  9. Molly, good point I don’t grow peas unless I can eat them whole. I can’t imagine making a profit shelling peas.I did use organic prices if they were available otherwise used conventional. I want to update when these vegetables are in season.Sorry always thought leaves were cilantro and seeds Coriander but your right that is just US/Canada. Just to have everyone covered also called dhania, Kothimbir, Kothimira, Kothambari, Kothamalli, kindza, Chinese parsley, and Mexican parsley

  10. Thanks for posting this useful table. I’m approaching value-per-square-foot from a little different perspective because I’m planning to sell some vegetables next season for the first time. I only have very limited land in town available so I need to think about maximizing my return per square foot.I’m a bit confused by the entry on the 10th line, first column, for winter squash at $8.40. Further down the list you also have three other winter squashes listed (butternut, hubbard and acorn) at much lower values per square foot. Is the first one some kind of gourmet winter squash that is valued higher? Or a higher yielding variety?Also, as you mentioned at the end of your post, to save money you have to eat what you grow. There’s no point in filling your entire garden with high value herbs that mostly go to waste. Better to use more of the space for lower valued crops that you will actually eat.Also, I have a book recommendation for you, check out:How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine by John Jeavons It’s all about growing more veggies in less space. (The potential yield tables are particularly interesting.)

  11. There is a book by British gardening writer, Joy Larkcom, called “Grow Your Own Vegetables” (ISBN: 978-0711219632). Apart from being a mine of information – seasons, varieties, soil and temperature requirements – it has a value per space rating much like yours. That said, there are things you can grow that you simply can’t buy – ultra-fresh home-grown corn comes to mind.

  12. Good information. As you mention the best value is to grow what you will eat – I would add that for best value concentrate on growing what you can eat fresh. Once you start factoring in the extra time and expense for canning and preserving returns start diminishing.Of course the thing is, since you can’t really buy an equivalent to home canned green beans (just to name one thing) you can’t make an accurate comparison.Part of the value of gardening is intrinsic.

  13. To increase your potato yield in smaller spaces, you can grow vertically. Gradually add containing walls (old tires, barrel sections, open-end boxes etc) and more growing medium as the stems and leaves grow upwards. The green parts will produce more tubers when buried. Keep stacking, burying and letting the plant catch up. Eventually you’ll have a tower filled with potatoes which you can deconstruct and harvest.

  14. I was looking for local hydro farms online. I came across one who grows the top 3 valuable crops for sale. They must have done their research.

  15. I would love to get all of the info but I can’t seem to get rid of the stupid ad that takes up the right hand information…I know it is most probably me but how do I get that to disappear so I can see all of the numbers. Thank you.

  16. Anonymous, looks like the this was a result of the 3-column site redesign, everything should be showing up now. Sorry for the confusion.

  17. “For those like me who are not from the USA/Canada and who had never seen the word “Cilantro” before, it’s what the rest of the world calls Coriander. January 5, 2009 8:17 PM ” actually coriander is the seed or spice from the cilantro plant, it’s what the rest of the world knows and is laughing at you for.

  18. Great blog post! I love learning about this online as gardening/landscaping are not only hobbies of mine but I actually do a little bit of work like that during the summer months as a second job. I appreciate your content in your blog and wish that you would keep up the good work :)

  19. Fabulous! Anyone have thoughts about including cost of irrigation for dry zones like No. California?

  20. Alex, that is a good point. In general with a few exceptions irrigation is pretty consistent for most plants. The frequency might be more or less but the amounts should be similar. I would be curious what the cost to simply water a square foot of land is. Depending on the technique (drip, soaker, sprinkler, hand watering) costs could also vary.

  21. Hi, I'm just wondering what the time period is per square foot… for example, in one spring/summer season you can get two root crops, one fruit crop, or an ongoing supply of kale picked bit by bit. So is this data per season, or per harvest…? Thanks.

  22. Ash, these numbers are for one harvest, so if you do spring/fall crops can double the profit.

  23. How can the lettuce give you so much per square foot when a head of lettuce takes up a square foot and depending on variety gets you .60 to 3.00a head???

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  25. I haven’t been following your blog long enough to know whether you grow anything besides veggies, but the most profitable thing in my Seattle garden is surely raspberries. They grow like weeds and require very little tending. The fruit is so expensive in the store, and never as good as it is at home. Takes to freezing really well, too.

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  27. I find I save the most money in my garden by having a bay laurel tree. Go price fresh, organic whole bay leaves.

  28. Great info. Expect more comments now that Lifehacker has found you.

    What about shallots? Man those things are expensive but awfully easy to grow.

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  30. Hello and thank you for this excellent veggie-ROI information! I just recently expanded my raised bed, square foot garden, and while I’ll say it’s fun to grow EVERYTHING – it sure is nice to know I could be more efficient at it. Not to mention I would plant cilantro in a pot all on it’s lonesome and not take up a precious square foot… that stuff grows like crazy! According to your list, my garden is a little on the inefficient side (check it out: http://richardstep.com/2010/05/25/square-foot-garden-update-irrigation-a-tomato/), but hey – now I know. Thank you again, kind soul!

  31. My veg growing has been reduced to 2 tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, cilantro, basil and kale. But I grow much more fruit than I used to: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries. All grow so well in Seattle.

  32. While I appreciate the effort, I submit that your value scale is distorted by using Safeway’s prices as your baseline. Shopping produce markets and/or farmers’ markets changes the price structure dramatically, and offers fruit/veg more comparable to what you’d grow yourself in terms of freshness and quality.

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  36. absurdist, I have thought about that which probably would be the closest thing to the quality of food picked from your garden. No matter which source I pick there will still be a big descrepency. Depending on region and seasons prices can decrease (or even increase) Around here you pay a premium for local berries at the grocery store (similiar to that at our local farmers market)

    Aaron, fennel is a good example I would imagine it would fall pretty high with the rest of the herbs.

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  40. interesting enough, but who eats that much cilantro!!

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  42. The value in growing your own veggies is partially the price, more valuable is knowing who’s hands have touched it in the process of it getting to your plate and what is has or hasn’t had sprayed or waxed on it.

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  44. Does anybody know the average USD value per square foot of marijuana? Because I’m sure it trumps everything else on your list, lol.

    Although if it were legal I bet it would be closer to the bottom since it can’t sustain you, just give you a good time. :-)
    Crazy concept, huh? Making nature illegal…(and therefor more profitable)

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  46. It would be interesting to compare this to the number of pounds produced per square foot.

  47. This is a great page for me to print out and give to my in-laws…they have a garden about half the size of their backyard (3/4 acre lot!) and are always pawning off their vegetables. I always tell them to sell them.

    This is a perfect way for me to explain to them how much money they’re leaving on the table…thanks!

  48. I have a question regarding some of the crops mentioned: What methods or assumptions were used in price per square foot determination? As an example, in some parts of the country cilantro can be yielded perhaps once or twice a year, and under optimal conditions up to eight. How many pounds, or bunches, or whichever, and at what cost per pound / bunch? It’s interesting info, but just interested in the background.

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  51. Obviously this will also let you know which ones to grow yourself and which ones to buy, you can buy the cheapest ones if you don’t have the space. Try to grow some of your own vegetables and offer good food to others, don’t just grow the most expensive plants to make a profit from it.

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  53. Your theory on growing potatoes had me confused, I did a study in my vegetable garden, and found that potatoes can be profitable. Given that you grow them above ground. Here is how…

    Needed:
    Two used tires to start of with
    Some decent soil
    A potato

    Method:

    Put the two used tires on top of each other.
    Fill them with soil.
    Plant the potato in the soil.
    As soon as the leaves are about 1foot tall, add another tire and fill it with soil. So that the top leaves are just above the soil.
    Keep repeating the last step until you can’t stag any more tires.
    Then push over the pile of tires and reap the fruits of your labor.

    I hope that this concept of gardening will help you and everyone else with a space problem.

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  59. Using potato towers (or sweet potato towers) for tuber crops would probably substantially change this analysis. All you need is a cylinder of wire mesh and some straw or mulch and some compost and you can grow lots of potatoes in a small space. As the vines grow, you cover them with a layer of compost and mulch, until they reach the top, then you let them finish ripening before taking the wire cylinder apart to harvest your crop.

    The tire tower trick is easy, too, but I’m slightly concerned about the heavy metals in the tires being taken up by the tubers.

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  63. This is great information and very accurate as I can tell. I have experimented with many of these crops and for the first time will be selling “shares” of my SFG to neighbors who want fresh and organic produce from my garden. Thanks for your leg-work and your report. I am getting ready to write an ebook on this very issue and how SFG can save a family a lot of money during the course of the year…Jim

  64. thanx for that info. Pretty darn cool.

    It takes a lot of work to look up yield per plant per square foot and then correlate that to market prices.

  65. Great post. On the subject of growing taters in tower, I would also be concerned about toxins from tires. I have also learned that the late maturing varieties may be more likely than early maturing varieties to produce taters all along the stem as desired for the method. I staked tomatoes (using prune tree limbs) for the first time last summer and I could not believe how little space they took that way!

  66. I was wondering if the prices are for organic vege’s. Another thought is, even though we may only want to use a small part of a bunch of herbs we often have to buy the bigger and expensive packet, this makes growing herbs like basil basil, parsley, sage etc seem an even better deal.

    ALso how often do we waste some of a lettuce or paclet of salad greens. These thinkgs make a lot of sense to grow :),

  67. I think you made a mistake in calculating USD value/SF from the source you used.
    For example, cilantro:
    $//Unit = $0.65/oz and the Unit/SF = 21.2. Which means, the $/SF is
    0.65 * 21.2 = $13.78/SF. (and not $21.2/SF)

    Thanks for your article.

  68. Have you checked out the sites that show you how to grow between 40-100 pounds of potatoes in 4 sq feet? That would push potatoes up the list.

    My second observation is that lettuce is very hard to store. So while I can grow a garden full of tomatoes and can them for future use, lettuce needs to be eaten immediately. That doesn’t necessarily affect the calculus but it certainly affects how I plan my garden.

    Finally, thanks for this, its nice to see some of the intuitive ideas I have about value in the garden both reaffirmed and debunked!

  69. 3 years later and this article is still helpful, informative, and unique! I returned to this article which I had bookmarked to share it with a friend and wanted to say thanks for putting it together! It’s helpful in making recommendations for friends just starting out with backyard veggie growing.

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  73. Just a thought as to the potatoes not being worth it- you can use a few sq. ft. and grow almost a hundred pounds of potatoes vertically by putting them in a burlap sack and rolling it up/filling and filling it with soil, they’ll continue to grow.

    • Mary, that is a great point potatoes and other crops (cucumbers, zuccunis, melons, squash, etc) can be grown vertically to get more per square foot. I did consider this when making my list but one thing to consider as you grow up you also shade the neighboring areas which you can not grow full or partial sun vegetables in that area. For that reason I went with the conventional “seed packet recomendation” growing methods for many of these metrics. I do plan on updating this post with some updated data given the prices of produce have increased in the past 3 years :)

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  75. The biggest point here, I think, is that regardless of the dollar value of the crop, knowing what is–or isn’t in the plants is almost priceless! You know you didn’t spray the plants with anything.

  76. I am going to plant a garden this year in addition to joining a local CSA. I am really going to have to plan ahead for lots of cooking and freezing and maybe canning in order to preserve all of my bounty.

  77. Thanks good article ,I also plant and love alot of garlic,good medicine food.,, cilantro and arugula plant throw in some lettuce and tomatoes , greens Life is good,,,Joe

  78. Such great information for everyone! Thanks so much for the article.

  79. Potatoes can be grown in stacked tires or barrels or any vertical equivalents… Vertical fence spaces, walls and the like can be adorned with climbing pots to increase growing space… I grow my herbs up my patio wall and save my other space for other plants… I grow tomatoes, squash and cucumbers up trellises too… Check out vertical gardening or pinterest.

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  81. Thank you for the time it took you to research this information. We grow a large garden, about 8000 sq feet. We have never counted or estimated the value we pull out each season, would be interesting to though. We eat fresh through the seson, I can and freeze the rest. I am starting seeds now in my pods/trays. I wanted to give a tip on kale. We grow about an 80 ft row of it every year. We harvest it not only through the summer and fall, but leave it in the garden through the winter. We just lay the snow back and snap off what we need. When it thaws in the sink, it is perfect. It holds up well. This year for the first time we had to put netting over it, the deer love it as well as we do. :)

    p.s. As I read through previous posts I had to laugh at “Anonymous”post from 1-5-09..here is USA we eat a surmountable amount of “cilantro”..I grow it every year and buy it from the grocer. YES people it is called cilantro, but when it goes to see it is called corriander.. lol

  82. ooops.. just noticed a spelling error.. should read.. “when it goes to seed it is called corriander”..

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  85. I would be interested in seeing how many square feet were assigned to vining things such as cucumbers or squashes. If they were grown on the ground, their value on this chart could be much lower than in my garden, where they are grown vertically so the entire plant (or in the case of cucumbers, two plants) only takes up one square foot.

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  87. I started growing bell pepppers while I was pregnant so I could eat them & the price of $1-2.00 PER PEPPER @ the grocery was not realistic for my nutritional needs.

  88. I am wondering if you could help me with ideas on planting an organic garden for profit. In other words what can I plant that will yield most profit in a zone 10b area? I have about a 1/2 an acre to spare. I really appreciate your advice! THANKS!

  89. I forgot to also mention I am in San Diego, CA if that makes any difference. :)

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  91. I have a vegetable that will beat every one of these in profit hands down! Chayote – one plant in one square foot of soil equals about 100 one pound fruits.

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  96. Culantro, not cilantro!
    Same taste and flavor. good for tropics or zone 9. Grow in the shade. Can grow in gallon pot for two years without replanting.

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  98. What about mushrooms? If I had half an acre, what varieties would I want to grow?

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  104. For your comment on waisting space in your garden with potatoes. I plant potatoes in a wire cage layered with soil and straw, it takes up little space and the return is great. 5 pounds of seed potatoes yields 30 pounds of potatoes. The only down side to the cage planting is watering, lots of water needed due to the air flow through the staw.
    Plant carrots in plastic buckets or a large plastic storage bin.

  105. I like your list but it is very flawed. You list the high USD value/SF but what you fail to realize is the ability to dry most of the herbs yourself. Garlic, we use a ton of it, in most of our cooking, you plant this between your rows of other plants, it helps protect against rabbits, deer and other animals that munch on your veggies, plus you can save it and replant it to get more the following year. Green onions or bunching onions, just cut off the top and it will grow back, expensive every time you go to the store to buy a bunch a dollar or so per one. Just give them a trim of what you need and it will grow back in a week to 2 weeks, plant between other crops similar to garlic and you have more space and another natural defense. Also don’t forget crop rotation. You can plant spinach and kale in the winter months, assuming you are in Norther America, and you get a return all winter as well. Plant potatoes in a vertical garden container and you can get 100 lbs from just a couple of plants. I am no professional but there are a lot of great ideas out there to maximize you return more so than what you would spend in a store buying these items. I do appreciate this chart though, hence me coming to this site to see the list. Thank you for putting in the time to compile such a list.

  106. Dont forget, As far as growing vertically, you can take a pvc pipe and cut holes in the sides, fill with sand, rockwool, or soil and plant leaf lettuce in all the holes. Water from the top of the pvc pipe. This increases your produce per sq. ft.

  107. Could you update this, or create one to refer to organic/GMO-free veggies?

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  113. Agriponics , using fish & fish waste to grow vegetables in water.
    You can eat the fish or not left up to you. All plant MOST be organic or the fish will die.
    So no one growing this method can cheat or lie about the plant being chemical free. The fish will die from any chemicals used on the plants.

  114. Kohlrabi is really expensive where I live, so i would have to disagree and say they are both more tasty when you grow them, super easy to grow, and expensive to buy at the market.

  115. I do this with asparagus,garlic,onions,greens,okra,blueberries,raspberries,grapes, & pears.
    I hope to add corn,blackberries,winter squash & beans next year.
    I know that vegetables are savory fruit, not apart of the sweet fruit I have added.
    I think the sweet fruit apply because of their cost in the store . My fruit & vegetables are organic grow, but cheater then any in the store.
    I alway grow tomatoes,peppers,cucumbers & melons.
    They are cheat, but I like growing my fruits myself.

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    • Susie, that is a good point…should think about adding some fungu with the vegetables…

  117. There are suites of mushrooms we can buy from Fungi Perfecti or other mycological plug and supply providers. Even specialized varieties like Pink Oyster mushrooms that grow well in the south or orchard tree saplings pre-inoculated with a symbiotic truffle-growing suite.

    If you get into that it would be wise to familiarize yourself with the look-alikes that grow locally, which is actually pretty easy. “Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms” by Paul Stamets, who is the preeminant experto of western mycology as David L. Spahr is of the east, who wrote “Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms of New England and Eastern Canada”. David Arora wrote the more comprehensive tome “Mushrooms Demystified”

    All that being said the most economically useful plants to grow are actually fairly cheap at the store. They are also just durned easy to grow, like carrots and onions

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  119. The best value plant I’ve come across so far is Dragon Fruit. We found the fruit in our local store for $10, tried it and loved it. They’re beautiful! And it’s a subtle sweetness to it. The fruit had easily a couple hundred seeds in it so plenty to share. Check them out!